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Sundance ‘10 | Josh Radnor Steps Behind the Camera for “happythankyoumoreplease”

Sundance ‘10 | Josh Radnor Steps Behind the Camera for "happythankyoumoreplease"

Written, directed, and starring Josh Radnor (of CBS’s “How I Met Your Mother”), the actor makes his directorial debut with “happythankyoumoreplease.” Radnor confesses that making the transition from actor to director was fraught with more than a little anxiety and discusses the process of making this “totally non-cynical movie.”

Six New Yorkers juggle love, friendship, and the keenly challenging specter of adulthood. Sam Wexler is a struggling writer who’s having a particularly bad day. When a young boy gets separated from his family on the subway, Sam makes the questionable decision to bring the child back to his apartment and thus begins a rewarding, yet complicated, friendship. Sam’s life revolves around his friends—Annie, whose self-image keeps her from commitment; Charlie and Mary Catherine, a couple whose possible move to Los Angeles tests their relationship; and Mississippi, a cabaret singer who catches Sam’s eye. [Synopsis courtesy of the Sundance Film Festival]

U.S. Dramatic Competition
Director: Josh Radnor
Screenwriter: Josh Radnor
Cast: Malin Akerman, Josh Radnor, Kate Mara, Zoe Kazan, Pablo Schreiber, Tony Hale
Executive Producer: Glenn Williamson, Bingo Gubelmann, Peter Sterling
Producer: Jesse Hara, Austin Stark, Benji Kohn, Chris Papavasiliou
Cinematographer: Seamus Tierney
Editor: Michael Miller
Music: Jaymay
Production Designer: Jade Healy
98 minutes

Josh Radnor on making the transition from actor to director…

Hey. My name’s Josh Radnor. I wrote and directed “happythankyoumoreplease.” I’ve been acting in television and theater steadily for a number of years, and I initially wrote the script to give myself a great film role. I never intended to direct the movie. But after spending so much time with the script and doing seven or eight readings with different actors, I started to feel like maybe I was the one for the job.

Director Josh Radnor. Image courtesy of Sundance Film Festival.

As I began the screenplay, I had three… I guess I’d call them “tent pole” ideas. 1) A guy who’s late for a meeting sees a boy get separated from his family on the subway and ends up taking the kid to the meeting with him. 2) I have a very good friend named Rachel who has alopecia universalis, which means she no hair anywhere on her body. She’s just hilarious and wise and wonderful, so I wanted to base a character on her. 3) I wanted to end the movie with a Kander and Ebb song called “Sing Happy.” Those were the ground rules I gave myself and I spun the story out from there.

My approach was essentially to surround myself with the very best people I could. Communicating with the actors wasn’t the part that scared me – it was every other part. Happily, all the right people seemed to materialize at just the right times. The thing I told everyone was that this world must feel authentic, that these were people who didn’t have a lot of money, who shopped in thrift stores, who had to get creative in how they decorated their very small apartments. I kept describing it as a “below 14th street movie.” I wanted the audience to feel like they were being granted access to these incredibly intimate moments in these people’s lives.

Paper Street Films came on board last April and said they thought we could shoot the film before my hiatus ended in August. Three weeks later we were in pre-production. The process of trying to get this film made seemed to move very slowly until all of a sudden it moved very fast. And when it looked like it was becoming a reality – I’m not unashamed to admit – I panicked. The stakes suddenly felt ludicrously high, and I just wanted it all to go away. Ultimately, I had to turn to the script for inspiration, which is about (among other things) taking leaps of faith into the unknown. So there were all the normal development hurdles, but the biggest hurdle was internal: Am I equipped to do this? And with zero evidence that I was, I moved forward. I’m really grateful for the terror, and I’m even more grateful that I didn’t let it stop me.

Radnor on how he hopes Sundance audiences receive the films…

It’s a totally non-cynical movie. Most of the people who’ve seen the film report leaving in a better mood than when they came in. If the audiences at Sundance feel that way, I’ll consider the film a success.

What he likes to watch…

My idea of a great film is watching Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy walk around European towns. I think Richard Linklater is an important and underrated American filmmaker. He has great and palpable affection for his characters and he allows them to talk – dialogue-heavy scenes can be incredibly dramatic if done right, and he does them right. “Magnolia” was another big influence, both in terms of the intersecting plots and its fearlessness in confronting such grand subjects as forgiveness and grace. P.T. Anderson gives me a lot of courage to go wherever my imagination takes me – I mean, come on: frogs falling from the sky!

…and what we can expect from him next…

I sold a book to Simon and Schuster and after Sundance, I’ve gotta get to work on editing that. I possibly have another screenplay brewing. And a few more episodes left to shoot in season five… And maybe a nap.

[indieWIRE invited directors with films in the Sundance U.S. Dramatic & Documentary Competitions as well as the NEXT section to submit responses in their own words about their films. These profiles are being published through the beginning of the 2010 Sundance Film Festival. To prompt the discussion, iW asked the filmmakers about what inspired their films, the challenges they faced and other general questions. They were also free to add additional comments related to their projects.]

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